THE SOURCE: “‘The Greatest Liar’” by Nicholson Baker, in Columbia Journalism Review, July–Aug. 2009.
Joseph Addison labeled Daniel Defoe “a false, shuffling, prevaricating rascal,” and even his 19th-century biographer, William Minto, admitted that Defoe was “perhaps the greatest liar that ever lived.” Yet he is also considered the first real journalist. “For a faker,” Nicholson Baker says, “Defoe had an enormous appetite for truth and life and bloody specificity.”
Both Defoes—the dissembler and the earnest seeker...